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Sounding the Alarm: Eating Disorders on the Rise

National Eating Disorder Awareness week is February 26th - March 1st. 

Unfortunately eating disorders are more common than many may think. The numbers might even surprise you. An estimated 9% of the US population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.  That’s nearly one in 10, or 28.8 million Americans. Even more alarming, 10,200 deaths per year are a direct result of an eating disorder, which is one death every 52 minutes. 

Myths and Facts Around Eating Disorders

Despite the prevalence and the seriousness of this condition, several myths persist about eating disorders. Read on for the facts. 

Myth: Eating disorders are a teenage girl thing. 

Fact: While females are two times more likely to be affected, people of all genders, ethnicities and ages can have eating disorders. While this condition often appears in teen years, it can also develop earlier and later in life. 

Myth: Eating disorders are just extreme diets. 

Fact: An eating disorder is not a dieting trend. It’s a serious medical and mental illness that can cause complications that result in permanent damage. The risk of dying by suicide is also increased. 

Myth: Having an eating disorder is a choice. 

Fact: The exact cause of eating disorders is still being studied. Researchers think a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological and social factors can raise a person’s risk for an eating disorder. 

Myth: Eating disorders are driven by a desire to be thin. 

Fact: While eating disorders affect people’s thoughts about food, their bodies and themselves, it’s not simply about being thin. Brain imaging studies have found differences in patterns of brain activity in women with eating disorders versus women who did not have an eating disorder. This research is leading to a better understanding. 

Myth: People with eating disorders barely eat and always look skinny.

Fact: You can have an eating disorder and be overweight, average weight or underweight. While anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves extreme food restriction, binge eating involves eating large amounts of food and those with bulimia nervosa binge and then purge large amounts of food. 

Myth: Eating disorders are decreasing

Fact:  One study found an 85.3% increase in health care visits for eating disorders among those ages 0 to 17, and a 45.6% increase for adults from 2018 to Q2 of 2022. Other similar findings underscore the need for increased awareness, prevention and treatment. 

Myth: Social media is to blame for eating disorders.

Fact: Eating disorders existed before social media. While there’s no definitive proof of a direct correlation, research has suggested that social media can contribute to the development of eating disorders due to factors like the constant exposure to idealized body images. There is also pro-eating disorder content online that can sway impressionable minds.  

If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, talking to your primary care provider, women's health provider, or behavioral health provider is a good place to start. You can also get confidential help at these helplines:

  • 888.375.7767 – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders (ANAD) helpline, also at
  • 888.662.1235 – National Alliance for Eating Disorders helpline, also at
  • 988 - Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, also at 


Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED),

"Neuroimaging in Eating Disorders: A Review of Recent Findings" by Walsh, B. T., & Devlin, M. J. (2015). Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 28(6), 416-423.


Morgan Roberts, APRN, WHNP
Morgan Roberts, APRN, WHNP

Morgan Roberts, APRN, WHNP is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner at CHI Health.

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